The following is a guest post by David Chatham. He is in court today awaiting sentencing for possession of child pornography.
. . . .
Many people talk about the proverbial “knock on the door” as their wake-up call and introduction to recovery from pornography addiction. For me, the knock was entirely too real. It came at 7:00 a.m. on December 16, 2008 when federal and state law enforcement agents knocked on our door and changed our lives. The agents were serving a search warrant to investigate me for receipt of child pornography. The pain in my wife’s eyes that morning will stay with me forever. As of this writing I have plead guilty to one count of receipt of child pornography and am facing up to eight years in federal prison.
This is my story.
My Early Exposure to Pornography
I grew up the middle child of three in a middle-class home in the suburbs of Raleigh, N.C. My father worked for IBM for 30 years and my mother started out as a stay-at-home mom, then worked her way into a professional career. My parents remain married today after 43 years. By all accounts, I had an average childhood. We lived in a rural area near tobacco and dairy farms. We belonged to a swim and tennis club nearby and had motorcycles, a boat and yearly vacations at the beach. We attended the little white country church across the street from our house. The one constant for me growing up was that I always felt different. Whether it was my red hair, buck teeth, or just in my head, it was always there.
I was first exposed to sex at age seven by an older female cousin fondling me. At age nine I was exposed to pornography when I found my father’s collection of magazines. I’m not sure what clicked, but I became fascinated by pornography and believe my addiction began with that first exposure. From that point on I actively pursued pornography by looking for it whenever I thought I might have a shot of finding it: My father’s collection, a friend’s father’s stash, neighbors, relatives, etc. I quickly learned to soothe myself with pornography and did so almost every day until January of 2009.
Child Pornography Enters the Picture
As my addiction progressed so did my need to look at harder and more explicit pornography. What started out as looking at Playboys progressed to Hustlers, then to videos depicting hard core sex acts. I discovered the Internet in 1994 and my addiction was fueled like putting gas to a fire. I was married at the time and my wife and I had a reasonably good relationship in spite of the pornography. Once I got online, I emotionally abandoned my wife and spent hours and hours online chatting and trading adult pornography. Our relationship was deteriorating before my eyes and I felt powerless to stop it. I was ashamed and angry and scared.
I discovered child pornography in 1996. I was on America Online, chatting with a person, trading adult pictures and this person said, “Tell me what you think about this one,” referring to the picture he was sending. It turned out to be a grainy black and white picture of a young girl, maybe 12, nude. I was shocked, repulsed and scared. I told him I didn’t like it, didn’t want to see more, and ended the conversation. A “normal” reaction, from what I’ve learned. However, somewhere along the way, as I traded adult images, and more and more people sent me child pornography, I dropped my boundaries and started looking at it and became sexually excited by it. To this day I don’t understand it. I’m not a pedophile; I have never touched a child nor ever wanted to. But somehow it became acceptable for me to view child pornography. The shame I felt was suffocating. But I chose each time to view it, feeling helpless to stop. I tried to justify it by saying I wasn’t physically hurting a child, that I didn’t “save” the images, and that I never distributed them to anyone else.
The Boundaries Erode
My wife discovered the child pornography and decided to leave the marriage. For most people this would have been enough of a wake-up call to consider getting help. I did consider it, attending 12-step meetings, but continued to look at pornography, digging in deeper to mask the shame of my divorce. While I primarily viewed adult pornography, I continued to look at child pornography. I treated it as almost a booster, something to put me over the top during my fantasy and masturbation.
After about a year, around 1999, I met a woman and started dating her. Lisa was amazing. She was fun, beautiful, athletic, intelligent and outgoing. We had a good time. But pornography still dominated my life. I would tell Lisa I had to have certain days free from seeing her under the premise that I needed “alone time.” Actually, I was carving out time to spend all day looking at pornography and compulsively masturbating. I was still chatting, trading adult pornography (still receiving child pornography) and viewing adult videos offline on a daily basis.
As broadband Internet became available I began expanding my repertoire of pornography. My boundaries continued to erode. It became more aggressive, more deviant. I would spend sleepless nights looking at it. Choosing the fantasy world over reality.
Lisa and I married on Oct. 4, 2003. Despite her awareness that something “wasn’t right,” she agreed to marry me. It took me five years to propose to her because I was so afraid it would just be a repeat of my first marriage and I would end up running her away as well. Little did I know just how strong a woman she is.
In the last few years leading up to the federal agents at our door, I felt like that was the inevitable end, that I was hopelessly addicted and had to hit bottom. I realize now that my bottom could have been the loss of my first marriage, the many arguments Lisa and I had about pornography, the shame I felt about my actions.
Redeeming the Time
Ultimately, I chose to receive child pornography from someone over a file sharing site in 2008. According to the agents who conducted the investigation, I was one of many people the person had sent pornography to and I was caught up in a sting.
I am currently awaiting my sentencing for the one count of receipt of child pornography. The federal guidelines suggest a prison term of around eight years for my particular offense. My wife and I have decided to use the time I have left before I go to prison to try to be of service to God and to help raise awareness of the damaging effects of pornography on individuals, families and society. Child pornography is not a victimless crime. The children in those images were physically and sexually abused for those pictures, and each time they are viewed they are victimized again.
As much as I regret my actions, I do believe God has a purpose in all of this. I accepted Christ on February 12, 2009. My wife and I have been receiving counseling and I have been attending 12-step meetings. I’ve been sober from pornography and masturbation since January of 2009. I am working on the hole that I was trying to fill with pornography, and Lisa and I are working on our marriage. We have been more honest, more intimate and more available to each other in the last 9 months than we have the entire 10 years we have been together.
Being accountable is a huge part of regaining the trust in our relationship. To help demonstrate that accountability, my wife and I use Covenant Eyes Accountability software. She receives a daily report on my online behavior and we discuss any concerns that may arise. It is a great way to be an open book, and to also provide me with one more tool I can use to fight temptation. If I do have the desire to stray, knowing how that will impact my wife and our relationship gives me motivation to stop and stay strong.
I regret my actions every day, but I’m not ashamed any more. I have seen so many small miracles in our life the last few months. While I wish the knock on the door had come sooner for me, I’m grateful that when I was ready to get help it was there in the form of God, our church, therapists and yes, even law enforcement. I pray that someone else doesn’t have to go through what we have gone through, that they open the door to redemption and recovery before that knock arrives.